Monday, August 23, 2010

Triumphant return (or something like it)

AND--we're back. We've been back for about a week now, actually. (Claire's in South Korea with her parents, and Ariel's in Massachusetts with her parents, and I'm in Washington, on a boat.) It's really weird to be back, kind of disorienting, and it doesn't help that there's this freak cold-spell sort of hovering over the Olympic Peninsula right now. I packed shorts and tank-tops for Russia, and that's all the clothing I have with me, so I've just been wandering around Port Angeles in sandals and short-sleeves, looking like an idiot in the balmy lower-60-degree weather. It's also odd to get free water in restaurants, with ice in it. Ice! And just today, I accidentally stepped into the middle of the road in front of an oncoming car, and the driver stopped, instead of running me over. Crazy.

The food's a lot better, too, but this isn't going to be a sigh of relief about how I'm (we're) back to civilization and away from giant tubs of caviar.


Or random cats sleeping on...

On cars?

Because believe it or not (I'm sure many people would think not), I actually kinda deep-down-in-the-dusty-recesses-of-my-heart miss Russia. What?! Yes. Not in the I-want-to-go-back-right-now kind of way. And maybe not even in the I-want-to-go-back-EVER kind of way. But still. If you were to ask me about my summer in Russia, I would say it was a summer of eating popsicles, with the frighteningly red (or cactus green) flavor melting and dripping stickily down my fingers. It was a summer sitting on dirty park benches in beautiful gardens, in late-evening sunlight that is so yellow and warm that it's almost alive as it sets behind the horizon. And then when the mosquitoes came (and trust me, they always did), we walked home, laughing and covered in the dust of the city.

And it's the oddest thing that I should miss Russia when some days I would walk down the street, squinting at the blazing hot sun, looking at the little kids pooling their money, trying to decide if they have enough to buy candy bars (looks the same in every country), and suddenly the same kids ran past chattering at such high speeds that I had NO IDEA what was going on, and everything was ALL WRONG, and why? WHY was I there? At times like those, I couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry, because yeah, culture shock sucks, but the summer sky in Saint Petersburg is almost the same shade of blue as the summer sky that I've been staring into for the past 18 years, although on the other side of the world. Almost. But not quite.

Some days--some days I really thought the summer would never end. But then, we did learn the word for "shit happens" in Russian, and really, you need that over there, for when you get lost (often), fall down a manhole (painful), or get food poisoning (unfortunate). Because it's the summer, and what happens during the summer is as intangible as the moment when dusk begins and ends. You can't bring it back with you into the red and gold reality of the melts, then evaporates, like the popsicles we sucked on all summer. It leaves a sticky film that vaguely reminds you of...something. And if you think a minute, maybe you'll remember. But then, you don't really want to remember, do you? At least, not fully or exactly. That's the beauty of the summer: you pick your flavor, savor it in the heat with the bugs buzzing around you, and then you walk away into the night, satisfied and exhausted, ready for the next day...

...or next term, as it were. See all you Dartmouth kids in 4 weeks! To everyone who was in Russia with me, thanks for the amazing summer.


The Dartmouth girls

Monday, August 2, 2010

Moscow, je t'aime

Moscow-lovers will be vindicated to hear that we went to Moscow--and loved it. We took the overnight train there, and got there at breakfast time. Everyone was a little apprehensive about going, especially since it was going to be 40˚C there the first day we arrived, which is about 104˚F. Oh, and this is Russia: there's no A/C or ice. Anywhere. Good news though: there was air-conditioning on the train, and I have never been so happy to wake up in the middle of the night, totally freezing.

Party train to Moscow!

Almost immediately after we arrived, we started our city tour; we had the most amusing, sarcastic tour guide yet. We got into a bus and drove around, looking at the old KGB building, among other things:

Tour guide: This is KGB building. It is highest building in all the world. You know why?
Us: Huh? *confusion*
Tour guide: Cause you can see Siberia from the basement. Heheheh.

After driving around, we stopped at the Red Square to take pictures and look at St. Basil's Cathedral.
It's sooo preeeetty...

And Lenin's mausoleum:
He's just, you know, chilling inside

After that, we went to the Armory in Red Square, and on our way, we met a very special someone...Vladimir Zhirinovsky. I didn't really know who this guy was up until that point, but I got a quick lesson, and up front, this guy is a psycho. He's the founder and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, an ultranationalist party that supports the abolition of almost all religions but Russian Orthodox in Russia; the reunification of the former Soviet Union; state control over technology and agriculture...oh, and it's also the "brain-child" of the KGB. Zhirinovsky is a Jewish Jew-hater (he's known as Russia's Hitler) who starts fist fights in the Duma to remain on the political spectrum; he was the one who started the food fight this past spring, throwing eggs at his fellow Duma members. And we--we got to meet him.


After this exciting interlude, we learned a little about Boris Yeltsin. According to our tour guide:

Tour guide: Bill Clinton came to visit Boris Yeltsin and there were two menus: Bill menu and Boris menu. Bill menu had soup, chicken, and dessert. Boris menu had Smirnoff, Smirnoff, and Smirnoff.
Us: *giggles*
Tour guide: What? Don't believe me? Most Russian prefer Boris menu...

Later that day, standing outside the Presidential palace, our tour guide brought up Yeltsin again:

Tour guide: Okay, and what was Yeltsin's hobby, again?
Us: *laughing* Vodka!
Tour guide: *looking wounded* No! Tennis...

Outside of the Presidential palace, there sits the biggest cannon in the world. Unfortunately, typically of Russia, it's actually too big to work; the cannonballs weigh over a ton each, and they are too heavy to fire. Funnily, the cannon points directly at the Presidential palace...

Tour guide: So, after a long night of drinking, Yeltsin came into the office with a hangover. He felt terrible. So he stuck his head out of the window to get some fresh air...

Tour guide: And saw this:

Tour guide: ...Pointing directly at him. Next day, he moved to building next door.

Next, we saw the biggest (and, surprise, nonfunctional) bell in the world:

With our lovely tour guide!

We went inside the Kremlin courtyard, and saw the several lovely cathedrals and churches inside:
Where Ivan the Terrible was married!

The next day, one of the Dartmouth kids in our group (oh hi, Clark) had a minor (okay, major) Starbucks meltdown. We were exiting a museum when he decided that he really needed a latte, so we decided to try to find one...

Setting off to find Paradise

Found it!

Crying because there's no more

Post Starbucks, we wandered around the city for a little bit, and then headed back to the hotel to meet the rest of the group for the 12:50am train ride back to Saint Petersburg. We arrived back this morning, and went to the banya today! (That will be another, fun-filled post :) With only two weeks left in Russia, we're starting to get a little sentimental, and forget the radioactive mosquitoes and beets and rude babushkas. So in the spirit of dewy-eyed vapidity...

Bridge over troubled waters (really, just polluted waters)

I should actually be editing my final paper right now, so I'll leave you with that deep thought.
Until the banya post, comrades.